You know the feeling.
It settles in slowly, over any number of hours or days or weeks or months or years. The timeline is different for everyone, and different every time.
You don’t usually wake up one morning realizing it’s taken over your whole body. One day you might notice your fingers feel numb and shaky. You think, that’s weird, but keep on using them like normal to hold coffee cups and turn door knobs and type things.
Another day you might notice your tongue flopping around in your mouth like a giant slug. It suddenly seems so useless, even though you can feel it moving when the empty words spill out of your mouth like they always do, or turning your food over as you chew, chew, chew whatever is in there (who knows, you can’t taste it anyway, you may as well be chewing on your own tongue).
And then maybe one day you wake up and can’t feel your body at all.
You know it’s there. You can see it. You wash it in the shower. You dry it off and cover it with clothes. You look at yourself in the mirror, and you know that is what you’re supposed to look like, but you don’t see yourself. Just the same blank face with the same dead eyes and the same limp hair.
You know that isn’t you. It can’t be. It’s like your body has been invaded overnight by some alien life form.
But then, if that isn’t you in there, where are you? Where is the voice of your inner monologue coming from if not from that head you’re staring at in the mirror?
One day like this, I was getting dressed for a gig, all in black. Black t-shirt, black leather skirt, black motorcycle boots—these are the things I would normally wear, right? These are the cool things that convey the cool me that everyone will be expecting to show up? I curled my hair, put on lipstick and eyeliner and looked at myself in the mirror.
Who is that? A vaguely pretty girl, empty, slightly overweight, tan and peeling from vacation, no spark, no passion.
I have no idea who that person is.
I was scared of the stranger in the mirror. Where had I gone?
I went to the freezer and got out two ice cubes. I went back to the mirror and held one in each hand, hoping the pain would shock some life back into that face. It took a long time for the pain to set in, and even then it felt like an illusion.
Do you recognize the feeling? Have you felt it once or many times? Have you felt it for a few days or for a few years or on and off for most of your life?
Today, I woke up. I didn’t feel sad. I didn’t feel angry. I didn’t feel anything.
The emptiness is the scariest feeling in the world. I suppose it’s a good sign that I can still feel fear. It’s a sign that I am in there somewhere, the little voice at the back of my head that tells me everything is going to be okay. I am not in danger, no more than any other moment. I am still me. Me is still in there.
I take a quick shower. I’m daydreaming about the next few months, about what the next steps might be. I go downstairs to the pie shop for coffee. The guy behind the counter is not nice to me. As usual. I take this too personally. As usual.
I go back upstairs to my bed. I’ve been in bed for almost 48 hours. I’ve left the house twice, both times for coffee. I drank a cheap 1.5-liter bottle of wine in two days. I have been sleeping so much and I am still exhausted. My fingers feel numb. My heart feels enlarged. My chest aches. My head feels full of air. I snuggle with my coffee cup, hoping the caffeine will snap me out of it. It works sometimes.
Three weeks ago, I wasn’t sleeping. I wasn’t eating. Now, I sleep too much and eat too much.
I’m gaining the weight back that I lost from carrying that heavy iron shield that was strapped to my chest when my whole world fell apart. I can’t stop eating cheese, even though I am mildly lactose-intolerant. I smile sometimes, and genuinely—but not often enough. I still enjoy singing, but my voice sounds foreign. I’m tired of hearing myself speak. So I stay home and binge watch TV shows and fill my head with other people’s voices.
You know the feeling. You must know it. We all feel it sometimes. Don’t we?
The feeling that something greater than you, greater than any of us, has complete control over your pathetic little insignificant life. The feeling that even the one true possession you’ve been given care of, your body, isn’t even in your control. Some alien force of darkness is permeating your pores and moving you around like a sad puppet.
I’m not sure, but I believe this may be the despair of the ego. Chemicals in the brain—sure, sure—but really, all of our brains are hardwired like this. We all have enormous capacity for darkness.
We also have enormous capacity for light.
On the flipside of this despair, there is incredible optimism. There is incredible faith. Many days, I feel like this light is the reason I continue to wake up every morning (or afternoon, or evening) despite feeling like I have no willpower left.
My ego feels depleted, but my soul is greater than my ego. My soul urges me onward with a kind laugh and a warm smile.
We all contain the space for all the energy of the universe to flow through. Our bodies have limits, although they are more flexible than we realize. The more we open ourselves, the more space we create. Having more space for light also creates more space for darkness.
The key, I think, is balance. Knowing that when the waves of despair crash over us, we will only be under for a while. That as long as we are living, things will inevitably change. And that things will continue to change long after we are gone.
I wiggle my fingers and toes. I step outside and take a deep breath.
I close my eyes and listen.
I feel my lungs fill and my ribcage expand.
I think of my skeleton inside my flesh and feel my bones vibrate eagerly.
I take a step.
Author: Phoebe Silva
Editor: Toby Israel
Image: Redd Angelo/Unsplash